Sunday, August 26, 2007

The Narrow Gate

I try to avoid Bible study in this blog, for obvious reasons (it tends to put people off, including myself a day later ;-) but this verse is kind of fun and was the subject of today's homily at All Saints (and every other Catholic church in the world, evidently; we all share the same missal). This is the verse that admonishes one to "strive to enter through the narrow gate" — and apparently, pastors leap onto that word strive as the key to understanding a text difficult almost to the point of distraction. Father Dave gives it a nice athletic spin, a conservative view shared by a lot of web sites (not all Catholic); in other words, "try hard."

Of course, entry through the narrow gate, the primordial Ur-gate, is the labor of childbirth, and thank you, Doctor Freud for pointing that out. There's an almost literal echo of that idea in Pure Land Buddhism, which teaches that everyone will be reborn inside a lotus blossom into the Pure Land (Heaven), if only they have uttered Namu amida butsu! (roughly, "Help me Lord Buddha!") once in their broken, unkempt, despairing and ravelled lives — to which the skeptical naturally point out that it hardly seems fair to allow, say, Adolf Hitler into heaven just for reciting a half-understood, mostly incomprehensible verbal formula. But the Buddha replies, "True, he is reborn in the Pure Land, formed like everyone else within the bud of a lotus blossom. But the bud does not open!"

You have to ask yourself which direction you're trying to go through that narrow gate. Is Heaven a fortress? Are you entering Hell, or escaping from it? Have you found your gate, yet? Dare we ask, are you born again?

The only "fortress" Dante Alighieri identifies is the overheated brazen walls of Dis, that is Hell itself. C. S. Lewis was more subtle; in The Great Divorce his guide (Dante had Virgil, Lewis was content with the forgettable George MacDonald) points out a barely perceptible crack in the dirt containing the entire abyss of Hell with the laser-like green tip of a blade of grass. It's all a matter of scale.



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